UNIT: Medieval Chinese Cataphracts 2: 铁浮屠 -Prince Wuzhu and Battle Record


It may seem strange to have a section that is exclusively devoted to "Leadership" in a column that is largely dealing with a faceless institution (literally faceless behind lamellar armor)~ inferring to the fact that somehow an individual's sway would be so great that it would exert over thousands of fighting souls. Well, yes, that part was incontrovertibly true, as the Iron Pagoda was but one of many- many pet projects of its creator, one whose career shaped every aspect of this unit and one whose style and personality lasted long after the annihilation of this unit.

Considering that the first of the Iron Pagoda were drawn from the best of Prince Wuzhu's 兀朮 own lancers, and among the Thousand Forked Houses exclusively dedicated to conform and reinforce to his doctrine it could be easily asserted that Wuzhu's leadership was essential to this fighting unit. 

Wuzhu was born in the 完颜 Wanyan clan that would later became the Jin imperal house, then the most prominent among the Jurchen tribes residing in the area around present-day Harbin, Heilongjiang Province. He was the fourth son of Aguda, the chief of the Wanyan tribe, which had been for centuries a vassal of the Khitan-led Liao dynasty. 


Like his father Aguda, Wuzhu would spend his entire life as a conqueror in the saddles, In December 1121, Wuzhu, then only a teenager, participated in battle against Liao forces. When the Jurchens received news that the Liao ruler, Emperor Tianzuo, was out on a hunting expedition at Yuanyang Lake (鴛鴦濼; Hebei Province)-

Upon hearing this, Wuzhu and Wolibu (斡離不; Wanyan Zongwang)- his second brother quickly led an army to attack on the Liao emperor in the hope of catching him off guard. During the battle, Wuzhu, after expending all of his arrows, seized a Liao soldier's weapon and continued fighting. He killed eight enemy soldiers and captured five, and became famous after the battle.

Though his first attempt failed, three years later in 1124, the Liao dynasty had lost most of its territories to the Jurchens. On 26 March 1125, Emperor Tianzuo was captured by Jin forces led by Wanyan Loushi (完顏婁室)- another of Wuzhu's cousins in Yingzhou (應州; in present-day northern Shanxi Province). Months later, he was sent to the Jin capital in Shangjing.

It was during this crisis that the massive Liao Empire crumbled and was quickly devoured by the rising Jin. In the attempt to tame various former Liao cities, Wuzhu would personally besiege and take over two dozen cities for his royal father. Contributing to the exponential expansion of the Jin realm in less than a decade. Little did he know though, that his previous disappointments would be washed clean when the Jin invaded the Song.

Various Jin tomb reliefs depicting Song and Jin horsemen battling each other


He served as an officer in the Jin dynasty's Eastern Army, which was commanded by Wolibu (斡離不; Wanyan Zongwang), the Right Vice-Marshal (右副元帥). In the first month of 1126, Wolibu sent Wuzhu to attack Tangyin County; Wuzhu won the battle and forced the 3,000 Song defenders to surrender. 

Soon after, the Eastern Army reached the Yellow River and attempted to cross, but the Song forces had already set the pontoon bridges on fire. The Jin officer Helusuo (合魯索) led 70 horsemen to cross the river at a shallow point and killed 500 Song soldiers who were burning the bridges.

At the same time, Wuzhu led 3,000 light cavalry and flanked the Song capital of Kaifeng. When he received news that the Song ruler, Emperor Huizong, had fled from Kaifeng after abdicating the throne to his son Emperor Qinzong, he led his horsemen in pursuit but failed to capture the emperor, only managing to obtain 3,000 horses. When Jin forces besieged Kaifeng again, the Song dynasty agreed to cede most of its northern territories to the Jin dynasty in return for peace. The Jurchens agreed and retreated back to their fortress in Yanjing (燕京; present-day Beijing).

In the eighth month of 1126, the Jin launched another invasion and Wuzhu again accompanied Wolibu to attack the Song dynasty. It was during this point that Wolibu and Wuzhu created and tested the first iteration of the Iron Pagoda by pooling their best horsemen into this crack shock troop.

→ Music: ← The Dust Bowl

Interestingly, the battle records of the Iron Pagodas began at the climax of their success and the absolute height of Prince Wuzhu's career- and also the height of Jin supremacy on the battlefield. When the Iron Pagodas first appeared in 1127, they came almost as a heart attack to the beleaguered Song. An unstoppable, immensely numerous row of heavy shock cavalry in the thousands flanked by two great wings of nimble horse archers- who may have the ability to mow down whole rows of infantry with interlinked thongs and who are also equipped to besiege cities on the fly- it was a unit made in hell to exploit every weakness possessed by the Song. 

A unit that was heavier than anything the Song could contend with, that offset the numerical advantage of the Song by its sheer invincibility in a charge, and ease into breaking dense, seemingly well defended formations head on. Worst of all, that could rapidly approach and take even a fully fortified Song city whenever the Jin pleased. It was this capability that allowed Wuzhu to take dozens of cities in mere months and make rapid multi- prong advances that broke up entire already demoralized Song frontiers. 


To utterly subdue the Song heartlands and capture the Song capital, Wuzhu personally led five thousand "Crutched Horse"- cavalry archers and a thousand Iron Pagodas to the Central Plains. After a series swift Jin victories all the cities that laid between the Jin borders and the Song capital were taken by Wuzhu's forces. And as he laid siege with Wolibu's main force to the Song capital, fortune would finally smile upon his previous dream of capturing a prized enemy foe. 

By the fourth month of the following year, Wuzhu and Wolibu's forces would conquer the imperial Song capital of Kaifeng and rather than one Emperor, the Jin would have captured two Song emperors- the retired Emperor Huizong and the sitting Emperor Qinzong and the enslavement of the whole of their trapped royal court. This event, historically known as the Jingkang Incident- or the Humiliation of Jingkang, marked the fall of two century of Song rule from their capital at Kaifeng- a period now known as the Northern Song dynasty, prompting a massive exodus of Han Chinese from the Central Chinese Plain in the millions. 

It should be pointed out- that since the consecration of the dynasty in 1114, the Jin would have seemingly destroyed two giant neighboring empires and captured a total of three rival Emperors in merely 13 years, the favor of Heaven itself- it would have seemed, was upon them- and so does Wuzhu. 

The Jin leadership had not expected or desired the fall of the Song dynasty. Their intention was to weaken the Song in order to demand more tribute, and they were unprepared for the magnitude of their victory. The Jurchens were preoccupied with strengthening their rule over the areas once controlled by Liao. Instead of continuing their invasion of the Song, an empire with a military that outnumbered their own, they adopted the strategy of "using Chinese to control the Chinese"


The next year would thrust Wuzhu more directly into the reins of power. His commander Wolibu died of illness in the sixth month of 1127 and was succeeded by his third brother, Eliduo (訛里朵; Wanyan Zongfu or Wanyan Zongyao), as Right Vice-Marshal. In the 12th month, Eliduo received orders to suppress anti-Jin rebellions in Shandong Province. 

In 1128, further rebellions erupted near the previously subdued Song heartland due to public disgruntlement against their Jin overlords. Wuzhu led his horse archers and the Iron Pagoda and scattered the rebel armies all around the Song heartlands. Kaifeng was forced to pay additional tributes to the Jin. After many slaughters, the Henan area was pacified under the brutal yoke of the Jin. 


Later in 1128, Wuzhu was informed that a ninth Prince of the Song dynasty had escaped and is attempting to reform the Song government- now styled as the Southern Song dynasty at Nanjing in the south. Under the goading of the Jin Emperor Taizong- his eldest brother, Wuzhu rushed to nib the bud of a possible Song resurrection in the south. On his warpath southward, his armored cavalry fist defeated a few thousand soldiers led by the veteran Song general Zheng Zongmeng (鄭宗孟) in Qingzhou. 

Next, he defeated the Huangqiong Army (黃瓊軍) led by Song general Zhao Cheng (趙成) in Linqu. With the devastating charge of the Iron Pagodas, the Jin army's vanguard defeated a 200,000-strong Song army led by Wang Shan (王善) and conquered Puzhou along with five counties in the vicinity. Wuzhu personally led his troops into battle during the subsequent attacks in present-day Handan, Hebei Province) and achieved victory. By then, all of Hebei had been occupied by the Jin dynasty.

In the first month of 1128, when his commander Eliduo and his army were planned to reorient their forces after successfully suppressing the rebellions, they were ambushed at Qinghe (青河) by a 30,000-strong Song army. But Wuzhu led a sudden counter-attack with his Iron Pagoda on the enemy and killed thousands- turning a possible defeat into a stunning victory. By early 1129, Wuzhu was promoted to the Right Vice-Marshal while the new Song court fled on ships down the Grand Canal.


In July 1129, the Jin started to invade Southern Song territory in four directions: Wanyan Chang from the east, Wuzhu from the middle, Wanyan Loushi from the west, and other troops led by Wanyan Balisu- each contingent of this massive invasion would have boasted well over 80,000- 100,000.

1129 would also see Wuzhu assigned a massive flotilla and exponentially more horse archers and Iron Pagodas to completely eradicate Song resistance beyond the Yantze River. For the vast Southern invasion, his cavalry alone would have reached tens of thousands, and his Iron Pagodas swelled to over 5000, this- combined with the massive numbers of naval personal ballooned his total invasion force to well over 100,000 and a fleet of over 200 transport and combat ships. They were given two simultaneous objectives, sack all of the Song strongholds along the Huai- Grand Canal- Yantze basin, and if they can, round up and capture the new Song Emperor and his court.

After forcing the surrender and looting all the Song loyalist cities along the Huai, the Grand Canal and the Yantze River, but he was blocked by the Song troops from Taipingzhou (太平州) at the ferry, and could not cross the river for three days. So Wuzhu turned to the much smaller Song ferry at Majiadu (馬家渡) and beat the garrison, beheading the Song general Chen Cui (陳淬). Having done so, Wuzhu achieved complete penetration beyond the Yantze banks only tens of miles from the Song capital on the southern shore of the Yantze banks. At one time, the Song Emperor barely escaped from the pursuit of Jin horse archers. 

In November, Wuzhu secured the river and defeated the thousands of Song troops led by Du Chong (杜充), Then, Learning that the Southern Song Emperor had fled to Fuzhou by way of Wenzhou, they pursued at sea but fell back after being blocked by Song naval forces. Wuzhu led his troops back to Lin'an. In February, 1130, Wuzhu declared that he had finished the search for Emperor Gaozong, and moved back north along the Jinghang canal, carrying large amounts of gold, silver, treasures and jewels plundered by the troops from all places of Jiangnan. 

Before leaving, he committed Lin'an, which was a city steeped in history, to the flames, and his troops burnt, killed and looted on their way, which became a calamity for the people in Jiangnan. Again the Song court was forced to flee on ships. By March 1130, all that was left was the exposed Song Capital of Nanjing and a skeleton crew of 8,000 garrison tasked to defend it. 



→ Music: ← Fury, Hammer and Tongs

But the massive 100,000 invasion was turned back in a stunning Song victory, the Song veteran general Han Shizhong 韩世忠 and (mostly by) his wife- General Liang Hongyu 梁紅玉 the legendary "Lady Red Jade of Yang" devastated the Jin flotilla with their flamethrower ships (called Tigerships) and decisive battlefield command issued by Lady Liang's drumming. Wuzhu would loose tens of thousands of his landing force to a surprise cavalry charge by Han Shizhong's as they attempted an amphibious landing- which prompted the whole of the Jin army to retreat back into their corralled ships. The Jin forces would be trapped by the Song for 48 days in their ships in a constant state of fear, shipsickness and starvation until they escaped through a dugout a canal that connected them to one of Yantze's tributaries. But even during their escape, during the summer of 1130 Wuzhu's retreating army was attacked by a Song army led by general Yue Fei and suffered a heavy loss.

This battle would be the first of many that saved the Song realm from Jin aggression into the South. In the next 40 years of ceaseless war between the Jin and the Song, never will the Jin be so close to topple the whole of the Song, and never will another Jin army be so close to eradicating the Song dynasty. (And never would the Jin realm expand much beyond this point.) 

In the coming decade, the Southern Song army would be restaffed and reconstituted by a cast of highly competent generals- including the aforementioned Han ShizhongZhang JunWang YunQin Hui, but mostly by the general Yue Fei 岳飞~ who in time would become a nightmare, living curse and repeated destroyer of whole Jin armies. Who would- also quickly and naturally became the mortal nemesis of Wuzhu himself. 


Regardless, Wuzhu would redeem this virginal failure by continuing to wrack up victories in the year 1130. Sensing that the Song defence was too strong in the south, and that most of the Easter Jiangnan riverlands was secure in Jin hands, the Jin Emperor Taizong decided to strike at the extreme western flank of the Song defenses. In September, 1130, Taizong made Eliduo command the armies of Shaanxi to attack Sichuan and Shaanxi provinces, followed by Wuzhu with his own army. 

1130 would mark one of the first "slow" years in the growth of the Jin Empire with marginal expansions in the south east. Sensing that the Song is shifting the majority of its forces to entrench all of its holdings along the eastern front of the Hunbei, Anhui, and Jiansu areas, the Jin wasted no time in sending Wuzhu to the western Sichuan Basin to outflank the Song defenses.

The Jin and Song forces fought the Battle of Fuping. At that time, the Song soldiers were several times more than those of Jin, and Wuzhu and his soldiers were surrounded by the 180,000 troops led by Zhang Jun, the local military commissioner of Shaanxi, and had a hard time (surrounded from all sides twice in one year!) But with the help of reinforcements from Wanyan Loushi, they finally got through the close siege. With the consolidation of Jin troops, the commander of Song troops got afraid and deserted on the eve of battle, which led to the collapse of the Song front. Not long after the battle in Fuping, Eliduo and Wuzhu captured most of the lands in Shaanxi Province.



After replenishing his ranks with replacements, Wuzhu took the lead of the armies of Shaanxi as its Governor General. In September, Wuzhu would once again lead several tens of thousands of soldiers to invade Sichuan Province. While he made his way through the jagged misty jungles of southern Shaanxi and Sichuan Basin, his army was ambushed beneath the Taihung Mountains by and the two Song regional commanders, the brothers Wu Jie 吳玠 and Wu Lin 吳璘

The History of Song elaborates on the battle in detail- in one of the first recorded instances of volley fire: [Wu] Jie ordered his commanders to select their most vigorous bowmen and strongest crossbowmen plus firelancers (primitive gunpowder troops or rocketeers) and to divide them up for alternate shooting by turns (分番迭射). They were called the "Standing-Firm Arrow Teams" (駐隊矢), and they shot continuously without cease, as thick as rain pouring down. The enemy fell back a bit, and then [Wu Jie] attacked with cavalry from the side to cut off the [enemy's] supply routes. 

[The enemy] crossed the encirclement and retreated, but [Wu Jie] set up ambushes at Shenben and waited. When the Jin troops arrived, [Wu's] ambushers shot, and the many [enemy] were in chaos. The troops were released to attack at night and greatly defeated them.

Wuzhu lost almost half of his troops and was shot by an crossbow bolt, this became his biggest failure since he started serving the military and had to retreat again north. It was stated in several sources that while being trapped within the many hostile mountain passes in his escape northward, Wuzhu was only able to made out of the pass by shaving all his hair and beard and pretended to be a monk on pilgrimage.  



1134, Two years after his failures at Shaanxi- on November, Wuzhu's troops again marched against Sichuan again and this time they defeated Wu Lin and captured Heshangyuan. In February the next year, Wuzhu sent out troops and with great difficulty dislodged both brothers. After a general slaughter he recieved news that his brother, the Emperor Taizong had died, his other brother Wanyan Dan, acended as the new Emperor Xizhong, in March Wuzhu returned to Yanjing after hearing that the eastern front of the empire was in serious jeopardy.

A few mountains too far: typical Sichuan landscape- and ideal defensive terrain for its defenders. The ubiquitous narrow paths, trecherous ravines and unscaleable mountains effectively nullified all of Wuzhu's cavalry~ which was designed for supremacy in the vast open lands of the Central Plains. Despite all of his efforts, Wuzhu would have never tamed the western regions and break through to outflank the Song.

Worse yet, while he had been away, the Song army had repeatedly annihilated the vassal armies of a Jin puppet- state's throughout the recent two years, and now they are marching back to claim their former heartlands with a vengeance. 


→ Music: ← Liu Bang's Army


During the intervening years where Wuzhu had been away, General Yue Fei 岳飞 had perfected his own doctrine of anti- cavalry warfare that combined massed arrays of horse chopping troops (armed with huge two handed horse chopping glaives called Maza Dao 麻扎刀,  and heavy pole-axes, closely supplemented by the heavy Beiwei (背嵬) nimble Youyi (游奕) striking cavalries, and pavise crossbowmen well drilled with volley fire. This 100,000 strong 岳家军, or "Yue Family Army" would become the most fatal threat to the entire Jin regime. 

In 1133, Yue Fei was made the general of the largest army in the Central Yangtze region. Between 1134 and 1135, he led a series of no less than four counteroffensive against the Jin puppet state of Qi (composed of Han turncoats and enslaved Han masses) and secured much territories that had been conquered by the Jurchens. He was repeatedly promoted, and with each promotion, the size of his army ballooned until he launched a Northern March to take back all of the Song heartlands.  

(Figures of the 岳家军 Yue Family army are list as such: less than 1,000 in 1127, during an emergency muster in 1130 to over 10,000, after his first major victory in 1132 to 23,000, in 1134 after recovering the first great tracts of Da Qi puppet state lands to over 30,000, after he recovered the entrance to the very heart of the central plains in China to well over 100,000- throughout their existence, their operational strength is usually listed as around 84,000) 

Though bookish and slightly squat compared to the average Song soldiers, 
Yue Fei was one of the few Chinese generals who excelled equally as tactician, 
military theorist, and scholar. An ever thinking man who loved experimentation,
he became the perfect countermeasure to the Jin threat. 


What was even more shocking to Wuzhu was that in 1135 Yue Fei had encountered whole detachments of Iron Pagoda Cavalry serving under Wuzhu's Wanyan clan brothers in the thousands, the two armies fought in a series of life and death charges and counter- charges, but ultimately Yue Fei was able to not only steadily keep his own ground but then were able to utterly annihilate nearly all of the Iron Pagodas by the thousands. 

Somehow, Yue Fei- this most aggressive of the Song commanders was able to not only stymie the dreaded Jin armored column, but did so with only his drilled militias- who had been no more than mere peasants and desperate low lives and made them into an ever victorious army. It became clear to all Jin commanders- their emerging empire was at a tipping point. Where as there had only been victories and expansion, of supremacy on the open swaths of open plains, now they have ran into a foe that not only was able to hold his own and repel the Jin (like all former Song defensive victories) but also able to confidently destroy even the best the Jin would throw at them.

Now they are facing an army that was bred to break apart everything the Jin could throw at them~ on the very grounds- the very flat plains of Song heartlands that the Jin had once reigned supreme.

It was clear to all Jin commanders that they must stop this foe, or else they would face with the broken prospect that even with half a dozen losses, the empire they had forged in such a meteoric manner would fragment into many pockets of Han rebellions and be utterly slaughter back to Manchuria and beyond. No, they must utterly destroy this Yue Fei no matter the cost.

But Yue Fei was not one to wait, soon after his victory in 1135, in the early months of 1136, he invaded the north again near Huinan in Anhui with an even bigger army, this time better trained and much better supplied.


Again he would run into over two thousands of Iron Pagodas and tens of thousands of Crutched Horses, this time they would began the battle with a headlong charge deep into the Song formations, but despite this fierce plunge, Yue Fei would again emerge as the victor, destroying nearly half of the Iron Pagodas he encountered, again he took the field and again the Jin forces was forced back in a humiliating retreat. The entire Province of Anhui was taken, the entrance to the Song heartland was formally secured and now the Song are in a strong position to project their invasion northward, confident that the Song army was in a position to recover all of northern China from the Jin dynasty

The former Song heartlands, marked in orange, the white arrow represent Yue Fei's gains in the 3 years since he perfected his fighting machine and the gains he made since his Northern Expedition, though the Jin had once pushed all the way on the south bank of the Yantze River, Yue Fei had rolled back all of the Jin gains on the eastern front.

1137 would be a year of chaos for the Jin administration. Han rebellions have sprung up all around the former Song heartlands, and the Jin ruling class became increasingly paranoid that their own puppet state is colluding with Yue Fei. To salvage the collapsing east, Wuzhu- marked in black, was recalled from his posts on the western front.


It was in 1137, when the whole of Anhui and Southern Henan province was taken, that Wuzhu was recalled from his garrison at Shaanxi and appointed as Right Vice-Marshal (右副元帥) and enfeoffed as the "Prince of Shen" (沈王) by his brother, the new Emperor Xizong in recognition of his contributions in battle. Finally, Wuzhu would have total control over an entire front along the Henan- Anhui gap into the central plains.

This was done because the Xizong Emperor is direly in need of someone who can restructure the crumbling eastern front. He was also weary of the puppet regime of Qi's repeated failures and believed that the royal family there was secretly conspiring with Yue Fei. What had they been thinking? If these fools would fall, Yue Fei would have no problem take the east, then the center, dividing the Jin realm into only the badlands in the north and west- utterly deprived of their breadbasket and muster pool. In the 11th month of that year, the Jin dynasty abolished the puppet regime of Qi and put them completely under centralised control. No, to survive, the Jin must muster a giant counter attack this time, with anyone that could be impressed into the army sent against the Song. But strangely, peace struck.

As a life long financier and stock keeper within the Wanyan clan- The Xizong Emperor had always been war- weary and cautions compared to his more aggressive predecessors (including Wuzhu) and he would have definitely realized that since the explosive expansion of the Jin state from 1114- 1131, for the last 6 years every Jin invasion thrown against the Han people in the south has been met with 1. either spectacular failures where whole columns of troops were killed or routed, or 2. marginal victories in the western fronts of Shaanxi and Sichuan where even if they win, they still had to pull back due to difficulties or ineptitude on the eastern front. 

This~ added to the exponential growth of Han insurgencies and violent palace intrigues that try to block every step of his attempts at centralization~ well, had all driven the Jin realm to a breaking point. Not to mention the huge stipends the Jin state had to subsidize for all their cavalry, specially the monstrous monthly upkeep for those extremely expensive Iron Pagodas. If any of this continue, instead of defeat on the battle field, the Jin realm would face the possibility of imploding from the shear strain of the state. Thus~ when he received a first conclusive overture of peace from the Song court, he went for it. 

Interestingly, The Song proposal was drafted by a Song general named Qin Hui, one who both Xizhong and Wuzhu knew of, and quite a shady character according to the History of the Song. Initially, Qin had served as one of the garrison commanders in charge of the defense around Kaifeng in the 1120s, but when the old Song capital of fell in 1127. he was captured along with Emperor Qinzong and Emperor Huizong. Some years later, he suddenly returned from captivity in the Jin empire to the court of the new Southern Song Emperor. He claimed some sort of miraculous escape but many people had expressed doubt regarding his story. 

However, he quickly won the emperor's favor and became the Chancellor of the Southern Song in 1131. After the series of Song victories under general Yue Fei- in 1137, the Jin was forced to reopen peace talks, and Qin gained power as a prominent "pacifist" within the Song court. Xizhong seemed to have liked the conditions of the agreement and agreed to a ceasefire. But it was a peace fiercely hated by the hawkish generals on both sides. 

The Song generals, led by Yue Fei, Han Sizhong, and Zhang Jun, plus a great faction of officials at court bitterly opposed this proposal, citing that the Jin would simply use this opportunity to lick their wounds, recover their losses and muster a huge army in this interlude. Same goes for the Jin, Wuzhu, Wanyan Zonggan and many Jin generals also strongly protested this proposal and regarded the "Peace" as nothing but a Song ploy to delay while maneuvering to strike at the Jin from a different front. A momentary charade before Yue Fei re launches another one of his Northern Expeditions.  


Aided by his control of the Song Censorate, Qin purged all of his disgruntled comrades from positions of high office and continued negotiations. The Jin and Song agreed to a treaty that designated the Yellow River as border between the two states. Most critically, however, despite the Song victories, the treaty stipulated that Emperor Gaozong of the Song would be made a "subject" of the Jin. But because there remained strong opposition to the treaty in both the courts of the Jin and Song, the full treaty was never formalized. Yet Qin Hui still persisted, many who criticized him were exiled far to the south, several in fact died on Hainan Island. He believed that the schools should only teach- (quote) "acceptable ideas" and practiced a strong form of censorship and thought control over the Imperial university. (Quote, as written in the History of the Song)

As for the Jin, Wuzhu was appointed as Marshal of the Capital (都元帥) and "Prince of Yue" (越王) in 1138, It was discovered that the Jin Left Vice-Marshal Talan had under his own orders gave back some areas in Henan and Shaanxi provinces to the Song dynasty. Wuzhu would have found evidence that Talan had connections with the Song dynasty, after the discovery Emperor Xizong promptly had Wuzhu kill Talan, after which Wuzhu was appointed as Taibao (太保; Grand Protector).Wuzhu would also have denounced and pushed for the execution of one of his brothers (the chief adviser of the Jin state) for being too intimately associating with the Han Chinese and learning Chinese customs. In all the months of peace, Wuzhu trained and drilled his army. 

Many in the modern world may regard peace as indeed preferable to war, but in this case, in this state of extreme distrust and mutual secret maneuverings, where neither is proven the victor while both deep down still believed- convinced of their expansionist aims, any peace that was struck would inevitably broken as soon as one of the belligerents gets hold of a larger army or see an opening. So as to say- any peace made here would have definitely not done out of moral reasons, nor any consensual reasons, it would be one of the most cynical of practicalities, doubly worse for it was enforced by oppressive, borderline traitor bureaucrats on both sides (Qin and Talan.) A peace, a consensual peace is not possible, certainly not while either Wuzhu or Yue Fei lived.


In late 1139, Xizong accepted Wuzhu's repeated proposals for a southern invasion and reignited the war against the Song dynasty. The Jurchen troops invaded Talan's treaty area, which had been given back to the Song dynasty in Henan and Shaanxi provinces. Because many of the generals used to be Jin officers, they soon surrendered and within one month the Jin dynasty captured most of the contested region.

Yue Fei was originally assigned to head the Song forces defending this region, when he was informed of the collapsing front of the Song, he quickly pulled up stakes and ordered a strategic retreat to the defensible lines south of Yingchang (present-day Xuchang, Henan Province)

- At least, its what he made it all seemed. Yue would have been aware that Wuzhu knew Yue was personally under order from the Song Emperor to only defend the region and not go on offensive against Jin forces within Jin territories, thus when Wuzhu was still marching around his newly conquered area consolidating his forces within the region, Yue's army followed him deep into Jin territory, chased him each step while simultaneously liberated cities after cities that Wuzhu had to abandon, including capturing the Yellow River's crossing point at Zhengzhou and sent soldiers beyond the banks of Yellow River to stir up peasant rebellion against the Jin. Yue Fei then raced like a sighthound behind Wuzhu's heels until Wuzhu retreated within the walls of Kaifeng. Fortune quickly turned downhill for the Song pursuers.

So close, yet so far, two men's bitter rivalry at a knife's edge, spelled out in the divide of their nations. The populous and fertile Province of Henan in the Central Plains would serve throughout 1137-1139 as the demarcation line between the two rival empires, The Jin would hold sway in the North, while the Song controlled the south- and through the treaty with Talan the Song would have also exerted its control over several counties in the western portion of the region.

When Wuzhu invaded the Song lands in late 1139, he quickly made off with large tracts of western Henan, but to his shock, Yue Fei came after him with a vengeance and chased him off western Henan while simultaneously liberated city after city in a wide arc- fortune smiled on the Song until Wuzhu was able to reach Kaifeng and take direct command of over 130,000 of his own soldiers recently sent there as reinforcements. 


Within the regional capital, which had served as a massive garrison. Wuzhu was fortunate to made contact with a giant army recently sent as his own reinforcements from the north- an army that he had personally trained and drilled for last 3 years in preparation for a massive Southern offensive against the Song, in total of over 100,000 foot soldiers, 15,000 Crutched Horse- horse archers and medium cavalry, and five thousand Iron Pagodas. No force between Kaifeng all the way to the Song capital has an army half as large enough to challenge this gargantuan force. Having Wuzhu take its command was akin to putting a functioning "brain" into the body of a mechanical killing machine. And now, the prey had became the predator. After scouts reported the sheer size of this massive army, Yue Fei again uprooted his army and this time did dutifully race toward the defensive lines.

Seeing the Song taking flight before his warpath, Wuzhu had intended to strike while the iron is hot and ordered an all out offensive with his massive force. This would be an armored fist that would work miracles, a guarantee to obliterate the Southern Song defensive lines throughout all of Yue Fei's lines and push the Song- all of the Song armies not only out of Henan and Anhui, but all the way pass the edge of Huai River and beyond the Yantze River.

→ Music: ← Battlefields of Chosain



In 1140, Wuzhu called for a great Southern Expedition to unilaterally wipe out all Song defenses between Henan and the Yantze River. The biography of Yue Fei in Chapter 365 of the History of Song records: "The Jin attacked and surrounded Bo (亳) in Anhui Province whereupon the local governor Liu Qi (刘锜) requested emergency assistance from the Imperial court.

By May, all the Song defenses along Wuzhu's warpath would have either collapsed or retreated in disarray, sensing the critical danger that the massive army posed, Yue Fei's West Army went on the attack during the wet months of late May and marched from their defensive river lands along Ezhou in Hubei and raced toward the Central Plains to meet this threat head on. The emperor issued an edict stating that 'the court was prepared and he was not far away'.

Though after commanding Yue Fei to counter-attack, the Song Emperor Gaozong changed his mind, and in June issued a further order recalling the general and his troops. Yue Fei ignored the order as the History of Song records: "Minister Li Ruoxu (李若虚) was sent from the court with orders for Yue Fei to withdraw but he refused to comply." To the growing fear of the Emperor and the Song court,- there was only silence. No messengers were sent back from the Henan front for months.

Then, a report, penned by the hands of Yue Fei himself saying: "On the 8th day of this month whilst out scouting, I saw four evil foreign princes, their mighty warriors and Wanyan Zongxian (完顏宗賢) (also known as the Heavenly King of the Pastures 蓋天大王). General Han Shizhong led 15,000 of our troops on horseback all dressed in shining armor. They seized the road 20 Li (6.6 miles) to the north of Yancheng (modern Luohe 漯河) where our cavalry engaged the enemy in the early evening.

→ Music: ← The Way of the Closed Fist

When Wuzhu moved southwards, he split his army into four divisions that used different routes, Yue Fei's army meanwhile was stationed at Yancheng. On August 21, 1140 (the 8th day of the seventh month in that year of the Chinese calendar), Wuzhu launched a surprise attack that suddenly veered toward the still isolated pockets of Song marching columns, heading it personally with a force of 15,000 horsemen and many more infantry. Yue Fei ordered his Beiwei (背嵬) and Youyi (游奕) cavalry units to attack the Jurchen thrust.

While en route to relieve the Song vanguards at Yancheng, Yue Fei ran into three thousand Iron Pagodas and more than eight thousand Crutched horses, but to the utter shock of the Jin crescent formation, what the Song hurled at them was nothing less than (拐子马/拐子馬)- another Crutched Horse array! - arranged exactly in a mimicry of a horseshoe crescent composed of Yue Fei's best Beiwei (背嵬) and Youyi (游奕) cavalry. 


The Beiwei Cavalry mentioned above would have been the most elite and best equipped of the entire Yue Family Army, easily the best performing cavalry of the whole of the Song Imperial Army. Not only were both the rider and their horse completely encased in lamellar and scale armor (much like the Iron Pagodas) but they would have also been equipped with versatile array of weapons, from bows/ crossbows to great glaives. Conversely, their Youyi (游奕) Cavalry counterparts were trained to be aggressive nimble lancer/ skirmishers- who would charge in to attack in melee at any weak gap they see then promptly retreat and skirmish (in range for they carried bows as well)- In short- a Song reverse engineering of the Crutched Horses in all but in its ethnic components. 

Columns of heavy Northern Song cavalry, less than two decades before the Battle of Yancheng.

Thousands of armored horsemen crashed upon each other, men and horses died en masse contrasted against the afternoon sun, then, mere seconds after the two massive Crutched Horse formations crashed against each other, Yue Fei immediately sent in the best of his anti- cavalry infantry in a massive charge. 

Yue Fei's chronicle continued by stating: "- quickly, officers and men hacked and chopped at the foes with maza swords (麻扎刀), griffes (提刀) and large hatchets. In ten bitter battles, countless enemies were slaughtered, their bodies littering the ground. As twilight fell we withdrew, stealing two hundred horses as we went. I would like to report a great victory and now await further orders from your majesty."

In total, Yue Fei's army destroyed two thousand Iron Pagodas, five thousand Crutched Horses, and thirty thousand Jin infantry were exterminated, after breaking the enemy formation, Yue Fei  then pulled out to rendezvous with other Song armies near by once darkness fell. 


Despite this great loss, Wuzhu was still not done fighting. 


Following his defeat at Yancheng, fourteen days later Wu Shu attacked Yingchang Fu (颍昌府, modern-day Xuchang City in Henan Province). Predicting the next move of the enemy, Yue Fei ordered his adopted son Yue Yun (岳云/岳雲) to lead the Beiwei Cavalry with its supporting infantry and go to the aid of the local commander Wang Gui (王贵/王貴). At the subsequent Battle of Yingchang, the Song were once more victorious again through the implementation of the Song Crutched Horse Formation. Nearly the entirety of Wuzhu's army was wiped out, including~ nearly all of the Iron Pagodas- after recieving many wounds,Wuzhu himself barely escaped from the great carnage. 

When Yue Fei’s army followed Wuzhu to Zhuxian (朱仙鎮 only 20 kilometres (12 mi) south of modern-day Kaifeng City) the two opposing armies stood and faced one another for the greater portion of a day, then after a brief struggle, Wuzhu and the remnant of his army withdrew to Kaifeng in full. 

After leaving some of his troops to garrison Zhuxian, Yue Fei again liberated the cities of Zhengzhou and Louyang and many cities throughout the whole of Henan Province. Everywhere he went, the Han people praised the victory whereupon Yue Fei shouted “Onward gentlemen to Huanglong Fu where we can drink our fill!” (黄龙府 modern Jilin Province- the very heartland of the Jin tribes- the homeland from where the Jin were first born along the Anchuhu River- the Jin "金" River of the eponymous Jin Dynasty), 

After the disastrous Battle of Yancheng and Yinchang, the Jin army bemoaned their situation by crying that “to shake the mountains is easy, to shake Yue Fei’s army is barely possible” (撼山易,撼岳家军难). And if we look closer within the margin of the losses, after the destruction of the five thousand Iron Pagodas, no other Iron Pagoda units would be raise again. All of the officers and veterans that had managed to survive from the frey would have either been re-outfitted as armored horse archers or other elements of heavy cavalry (there were still many) within the Jin Army. But what of Wuzhu? And what of Yue Fei after this most decisive of duels?


What happened afterward was something that millions of Chinese people still barely could comprehend to have happened. After liberating nearly the whole of Henan from Jin control except the former Song capital of Kaifeng and Henan's north eastern corridors- which the Jin used to reinforce their beleagered metropolis. Just when Yue Fei was threatening to retake Kaifeng, Yue was ordered by Emperor Gaozong himself to withdraw and return to the south. In early 1142, after Yue Fei had returned to the Song territories, both he and his adopted son Yue Yun were murdered by Song agents.

There are two version of his death, according to The History of China: (The Greenwood Histories of the Modern Nations) and other sources, Yue was imprisoned by Qin Hui and who would eventually arrange for him to be executed on false charges. Shuo Yue Quanzhuan states he was strangled to death. It reads, "...[Yue Fei] strode in long steps to the Pavilion of Winds and Waves ... The warders on both sides picked up the ropes and strangled the three men [Yue Fei, Yue Yun, and Zhang Xian (張憲), Yue's subordinate] without further ado... At the time Lord Yue was 39 years of age and the young lord Yue Yun 23." Still, a great number simply say he was executed, murdered, or "treacherously assassinated".

Many historians seemed to believe corrupt officials at court had advised Emperor Gaozong to recall Yue and sue for peace with the Jurchens. Fearing that a defeat at Kaifeng might cause the Jurchens to release Emperor Qinzong- who had been held as hostage after the Humiliation at Jinkang, and would definitely have threatened Gaozong's claim to the throne, Gaozong followed their advice, and sent 12 orders in the form of 12 gold plaques to Yue Fei, recalling him back to the capital. 

Regardless, it would seem- from what Gaozong did next that he was insistent on settling a peace treaty with the Jurchens and sought to rein in the assertiveness of the military. First, the government weakened the military by rewarding warhawks like Yue Fei, Han Shizhong, and Zhang Jun with titles that relieved them of their command over the Song armies. Han Shizhong, a critic of the treaty, retired. Yue Fei also announced his resignation as an act of protest. It was as a result of this that the Song went after him and his family in 1142 to make an example out of all who resisted the treaty.

Imperial Order to General Yue Fei (《賜岳飛手勅》), Emperor Gaozong of Song, National Palace Museum, Taipei

What's even more unbelieveable was the terms in which the Southern Song settled in the new peace it sought with the Jin. 

→ Music: ← Songs of a Doomed Dynasty

The Treaty of Shaoxing (Chinese: 紹興和議) ended the military conflicts between the Jin dynasty and the Southern Song dynasty. It also drew up the boundaries of the two countries and forced the Song to return all of Yue Fei's gains to the Jin and legally renounce all claims to its former heartlands north of the Huai River (which included Kaifeng). The treaty was signed in 1141, and under it the Southern Song agreed to paying tribute of 250,000 taels and 250,000 packs of silk to the Jin every year for 23 years. To add insult to injury, the Song Emperors have to publicly accepted the status of being an inferior vassal state of the Jin empire. The treaty was formally ratified on 11 October 1142 when a Jin envoy visited the Song court.  It should be mentioned that although the treaty demanded a mutual peace that would last longer than 60 years, the Jin would again try to annihilate the south in less than 20 years. 

Never would the Song be so close to expelling the Jin threat- the Jin would afterwards plague it for a whole century, never would the Song be so close to reclaim their heartlands. An entire generation of loyal Song generals that had risen when their nation needed them the most would be hunted down, demoted, and purged in the ensuing "era of peace." And many historians would have agreed that the Song dynasty doomed itself at the very moment of its greatest triumph.

After his execution, Yue Fei's reputation for defending the Southern Song grew to that of a national folk hero. Qin- on the other hand became notorious, and (after he lost power and died in disgrace) some people suspected that he was a traitor who worked directly in collusion with Wuzhu. Decades after Yue's death and after the recommencement of warfare with the Jin, Yue Fei's grandson, Yue Ke (岳珂), had retrieved documents that proved of his grandfather's loyalty, and published an adulatory biography of him. After Gaozong resigned as the Song Emperor, his successor Emperor Xiaozong posthumously pardoned and rehabilitated Yue. 

From that point on, Qin was constantly vilified by Chinese historians. He became one of the most important examples in Chinese history of an evil minister. For their part in Yue's death, the incinsed Chinese populace pooled together a public fund and casted iron statues of Qin Hui, his wife the Lady Yang (who pushed him to kill Yue Fei while in captivity) and two of Qin's subordinates, Moqi Xie (万俟卨) and Zhang Jun (張俊) who reportedly have killed the wronged general. The statues were made in a kneeling pose forever bend before Yue Fei's tomb by the West Lake of Hangzhou. These cursed effigies for so hated by the populace that for 9 centuries, these statues have been cursed, spat and urinated upon by people.


And what of Wuzhu? What of that figure who had risen so high, so swiftly, just to be undone by a even more meteoric rival- who in the end eclipsed him in the annals of history? What of this consummate warrior- politician? Surprisingly, after the Treaty of Shaoxing, for the first time since out story began, and first time in his 40+ years of existence, Wuzhu was contend to simply sit and leisurely manage the affairs of the state. After the death of Yue Fei and the Shaoxing Treaty, Wuzhu- a life long warrior and conservative stuck to the treaty terms, and advocated to wait until everything was ready to destroy the Song dynasty. In the 20 years that followed, there were few wars between the two empires. And in time, under this Jin Supremacy, Trade and cultural exchange began between the Song and the Jin. 

In March, 1142, Wuzhu was appointed as Taifu (太傅). In November 1147, he was appointed as Taishi (太師; Grand Tutor). After aiding in the founding of the dynasty and aiding three successive Emperors, in more than 30 continuous years in the saddles, on October 1148, Wuzhu died of illness in his private palace.



In terms of historical military units, I usually arrange them into two categories: one whose significance was ranked according to continuity~ i.e tradition: as in the cases of long standing military units such as the Immortals (300 years) Scholae Palatinae (600 years) Jannisaries (500 years) Sipahi (500 years) Ghulum/ Mumluks (1000 years) Druzhinas (300 years) Huscarls, (400 years) Samurai (900 years) the Polish Hussar (200 years) and Mangudai (200 years), including famous guard units such as the Garde Écossaise (300 years) the Coldstream Guards (350 years) Varangian Guards (300 years.) 

And then there are units that- though very short-lived are defined by its sheer impact on world history or if they were critical part of a conflict: This list would include the Companion Cavalry of Philip II of Macedon and Alexander the Great (50 years, and generally no more than 200-800,) the Finnish Hakkapeliitta (15+ years) Pandurs (7 years) Hajduk (deployed by several kingdoms but never more than 20 years each,) Jat Lancers (60 years) the 33rd (or Duke of Wellington's) Regiment (15+ years as his own) the endless Regiment of Foot and Jäger units that were raised and then disbanded, and lets not forget the endless WWI, WWII Tanks, planes, and other vehicles that served no more than at most 3-4 years at maximum in the conflict. All the grotesque looking Axis tanks and exotic experimental warbirds are in this category as well. The very first German tank, the A7V served in less than 6 months and no more than 20 were ever built. The Battleship Yamato served less than 5 years, the fearsome KV-2 in less than 2, the Tiger Tank only served for 3 years while the jet powered Messerschmitt Me 262 in merely 1! 

The Iron Pagoda would have belonged to the latter category, with only 13 years of service during the nearly 15 years of constant warfare between the Song and Jin armies- though the length of the conflict was not long by Chinese standards, they were still respectable: considering their participation in the three Jin campaigns were longer than most wars around the world.

Their significance is primarily due to the vast numbers which they were deployed (3,000-6,000) very rare for such expensive and extremely heavy units- I should point out again that western knights- though storied and indeed critical to medieval warfare were rarely ever deployed in units which numbered more than a few hundred- and slightly over 1,000 at most during at this time. 

The Iron Pagoda's second significance was due to the ubiquity of their deployment. I mentioned above that they were not only the best vanguards of Wuzhu but Iron Pagodas were used by many other Jin generals as well- thus these riders would have operated in nearly every front of China during that time, across all terrains- be they the steppe, fertile plains, mountains or jungles. Their significance- just like the Tiger Tanks of WW2 lies in the fact that they were the best the Jin could throw at the Song in any given front for 13 years. And after the Jin realized that they had taken all the flatlands where these units were useful, and seen how they were having great difficulties in traversing through rough mountains and dense forests in Southern China, so did their relevance- thus the need to keep them came to an end. 

In the end, the tactics and institutional experience of the Iron Pagodas would have drifted to the other branches of the Jin Army along with its surviving officers. For the next century the Jin would have continued to have used heavy cavalry until the Mongols destroyed the Jin state in 1234.


I think many who have gotten to this point in our story would have seen parallels in the dynamic of Wuzhu and Yue Fei's rivalry to that of Hannibal and Scipio Aficanus, or Napoleon and Wellington. 

At first, we see Wuzhu as a promising underdog full of purpose and skills rose to the height to humble empires (plural, and twice) to personally capture Emperors, then was thrusted to take up the very fate of nations by leading massive armies under his command. Only to see another underdog full of purpose risen to challenge him, only to have met a nemesis that was so dangerous he might as well be termed "The Anti- Wuzhu." Napoleon once stated: "You must not fight too often with one enemy, or you will teach him all your art of war." And just as Scipio imitated Hannibal's tactical masterpiece at Canne in his African Expedition that ultimately undid the Carthaginians, Yue was able to not only mimic Wuzhu's classic Crutched Horses and Iron Pagodas in the forms of his Youyi and BeiWei Cavalry, but he was also able to repeatedly beat Wuzhu with them. 

It would seemed in the end, Wuzhu was just pleased that his nemisis was dead- that he was able to see it, and that for the time being the Song would have no one that is stronger than himself to threaten the Jin state. It must have seemed to Wuzhu- as a life long conservative who despised foreign ways and ever committed to the precepts to expand the Jin State, Wuzhu in the end was contend to know there aren't any threats left that could hurt the Jin while he lived. It was- in all considerations a proper moment for a retirement and disappear from history.


If anything, Wuzhu's greatest achievement was not the knowledge he had imparted on his own Jin Horsemen, but in the hard lessons he had inflicted upon the Song. Because of the extreme difficulties the Jin cavalries had inflicted upon the Song state, for the next century the Song would have perfected their anti- Cavalry warfare to such a dogged extend that when the Mongols began their invasion of China, they would spent nearly a century to subdue the whole of China- and fifty to subdue the Song, well after the death of 4 great Khans (Ghengis, Ögedei, Güyük Khan, Möngke Khan) and well after their global empire began to shrink and splinter everywhere across Europe and Central Asia did Kublai finally subdue the last embers of Song resistance.

Thank you to my Patrons who has contributed $10 and above: 
You helped make this happen!

➢ ☯ Stephen D Rynerson
➢ ☯ SRS (Mr. U)


Y said…
T. G. said…
Thanks for taking time to write this piece from an important part of history down. The life, deeds and personality of the two heroes are kept me occupied. Could only imagine what if they were born into another life as existing on the same side. At least Wuzhu was cherished and ultimately promoted into and died peacefully in the highest position next to his monarch. If only Yue Fei was more assertive politically maybe he wouldn't be crushed by the likes of Qin Hui. That being said, what mattered to him was service to the country. Rest in power.

As for the emperor, the peace treaty, and the fear of the return of the captured former emperor, wouldn't there only be little (if any) chances of the current emperor being replaced by the former emperor? After all, much of Yue Fei's big achievements and that of the Song against Jin happened under the current Gaozong of Song, while the former emperor reigned for a short time until the northern half of the empire were lost and the former emperor himself was helplessly captured? What are your thoughts on these? Thanks.